Say goodbye to itchy, scaly skin with these psoriasis treatment options

Dec 02, 2019
Source: Getty

Psoriasis is an uncomfortable skin condition that affects an estimated 450,000 Australians. But, other than knowing that psoriasis can appear as red, itchy patches on the skin’s surface, many people still don’t know what it is or how it can be treated.

Starts at 60 spoke to dermatologist Saxon Smith to find out more about the debilitating condition and what you can do to manage it.

Psoriasis explained

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes patches of flaky, dry skin that can resemble a rash. In some cases, the skin can even take on a silvery-white colour. It occurs when skin cells are replaced more quickly than usual.

And unlike other disorders that we can hide or mask, psoriasis tends to be noticeable. Patches normally appear on the scalp, elbows and knees, but can occur anywhere on the body, Smith explains.

There are different kinds of psoriasis and the severity of the condition varies from person to person. However, the most common symptoms of psoriasis include red, raised or inflamed patches of skin, itchiness, dry skin that may crack and bleed, and in some cases, painful, swollen joints.

Psoriasis can even raise your risk for other conditions, Smith explains, adding, “About 30 to 40 per cent of people with psoriasis develop this inflammatory arthritis called psoriatic arthritis.”

Psoriasis can also pose problems for your heart. Studies have found that psoriasis is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure. People living with the condition also have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

What causes psoriasis?

The exact cause of psoriasis is unknown, but experts believe that it’s related to the body’s immune system. Genetics and environmental factors also play a role.

And no, you can’t catch it! There’s a common misconception that psoriasis is contagious, but according to Smith, that’s not the case.

“[People] don’t understand that this is an autoimmune disease,” he says. “It’s generated by genetics, it’s not something that’s contagious.”

There are certain triggers that can cause psoriasis to flare up or worsen, including:

  • Infections, such as strep throat or skin infections
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Certain medications, including lithium, high blood pressure medication, antimalarial drugs and iodides.

How to treat psoriasis

While there isn’t yet a cure for psoriasis, there are various ways to manage the condition. However, it’s always important to speak with your doctor before testing treatments on yourself. Treatment options include:

  • Topical treatments, such as prescribed creams and ointments, may help with mild to moderate cases of psoriasis. These treatments slow down the growth of skin cells and reduce inflammation associated with psoriasis.
  • Phototherapy is another treatment option that may improve your psoriasis symptoms. Treatment involves exposing the skin to natural or artificial ultraviolet (UV) light. In most cases, the symptoms may clear up and be almost unnoticeable.
  • If your psoriasis is more severe or doesn’t respond to other treatments, your doctor may prescribe oral or injectable drugs, also called systemic drugs. However, because of severe side effects, these drugs are typically only prescribed for a short time.
  • Biologics are a newer class of drugs for psoriasis that only target specific parts of the immune system. As of December 1, a new treatment option, Skyrizi, has been added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). So how does it work? Smith says biologics, like Skyrizi, work by blocking reactions in your body that cause psoriasis and its symptoms. Biologics are taken by injection, he adds, explaining that “this is usually something [people] can do themselves at home.
    “Biologics are used for patients who have moderate to severe psoriasis and don’t respond to some of the more traditional treatments.”
  • People with very mild psoriasis may be able to get relief from a number of alternative therapies, including special diets, creams, dietary supplements and herbs. For example, fish oil supplements may reduce inflammation, while aloe vera cream may ease a flare up, thanks to its calming properties.

Although you might be tempted to pick or itch at your sores, it’s vital that you try to avoid doing so, as it will actually make your condition worse.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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Do you live with psoriasis? How do you manage the condition when you have a flair up?

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